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Posts Tagged ‘Super Food Nerds’

Super Food Nerds: Homemade Marshmallows

Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a column written in alternating installments by Rupa (food and beverage editor, culinary staff) and Jonathan (research librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic — how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.

Confession time: I have a culinary degree and have worked at Food Network for almost a decade, and I have never given marshmallows a second thought. Sure, my favorite ice cream flavor is Rocky Road (mini marshmallows? Yes.). And I like s’mores as much as the next former Girl Scout, but I’ve never stopped to think about how marshmallows come into being.

It turns out, the process is shockingly easy. The marshmallow’s trademark springiness comes from egg whites that are beaten till airy and stiff, then whipped together with hot sugar syrup until the mixture is thick and ribbon-y (bakers call this Swiss meringue). It’s all then bound with a stabilizer, like gelatin. When they’re homemade, marshmallows come out creamier and richer than store-bought ones, with a more delicate sweetness. (Plus, they are even more amazing in s’mores.)

If you search online, there’s no shortage of recipes and ways to make marshmallows; most call for light corn syrup or golden syrup (if you’re British) because it’s a little easier to work with than just sugar alone, but having tried it both ways, I found the difference in difficulty to be marginal and the flavor of the all-sugar treats to be brighter.

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Super Food Nerds: How to Make Chicharron (aka Pork Rinds)

Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a  column written in alternating installments by Rupa (Food and Beverage Editor, Culinary Staff) and Jonathan (Research Librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic – how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.

I don’t know what you eat on road trips, but my snack of choice is pork rinds, more often than not bought at a gas station. Something about the crispy-crunchy-porky deliciousness makes me give up all my usual scruples about only eating pastured pork raised by a farmer I’ve met, and also about not buying meat from gas stations.

But if you can have your pork and eat it too — that is, if you can have delicious, crispy-crunchy-porky snacks made out of good-quality pork and seasoned the way you like it, you’re pretty much winning at everything. This is a recipe that takes time (at a minimum, you’re looking at a 24-hour waiting period), but it’s mostly waiting, not working. And there are a few natural-feeling break points in the process that would let you put your pork on pause if you needed to.

Quick linguistic note: There are a couple of ways to refer to these. These are pork rinds, or chicharrones. Cracklings or scratchings are what’s left in the pan after you render fat also crispy and delicious, but not this.

So, I started by ordering some pork skin from my butcher. You may have to order skin-on belly to get skin, in which case, cut the skin off, use it for this recipe, and make bacon with the belly. (Or, your butcher may give you the skin for free or at minimal cost.) If your skin is super fatty, or you only had access to skin-on fatback, cut off any huge chunks of fat wherever possible and render it (follow instructions for that here) for later use as fry oil.

There’s something pretty amazing about taking something that looks like this…

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Super Food Nerds: How to Make Gravlax


Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a  column written in alternating installments by Rupa (Food and Beverage Editor, Culinary Staff) and Jonathan (Research Librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic – how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if they can overthink it, they’re on it.

Cured fish is basically my favorite food. Smoked eel, pickled herring, kippered whitefish, weird dried squid snacks you eat in Russian saunas — I’m all about it. But it’s expensive, and I’m on a budget, so I wanted to see if I could make it myself.

There are a few ways to go about curing fish: brining and cold-smoking (at a temperature of about 100 degrees F), like most smoked salmon you see sold with bagels; brining and hot-smoking (so it’s flaky and rich, mostly done with trout); and gravlax, a dry salt cure, which gets you the silky texture of cold-smoke without the smoking part.

Gravlax is a traditional Scandinavian way of curing fish — it translates literally to “buried salmon,” since the fish used to be buried in the ground to cure. Now the fish gets buried in the dry salt-sugar cure, and since it’s the quickest, easiest way to get the fish from zero to my mouth, that’s the method I picked.

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Super Food Nerds: How to Make Your Own Yogurt

Superfoodnerd Milder here, reporting this month on Project D.I.Y. Yogurt. Let me start by saying that I came to this with some trepidation, scarred by a personal history of sour milk and thin, lumpy yogurts of my own making. I had read the articles (“better than anything you can buy!”), seen the blog posts (“idiot proof!”), followed the recipes — and the recipes had failed me. I knew I was in for a fight on this one.

And quite a fight it was. My first few attempts were utter travesties of spilled, wasted and spoiled milk. I killed my starter culture; I ruined my curd; I scalded my hand; I threw out my back. I would have cried, were I anything less than a steely-eyed superfoodnerd. No, I picked myself up, straightened my pocket protector and set to work. It took considerable research and tinkering, but ultimately I did manage to break through to yogurt — really, really good, smile-across-your-face yogurt. For all its difficulties, this was a project with a big payoff.

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Super Food Nerds: How to Make Your Own Bacon

A couple years ago, all the food blogs were aflame about making your own bacon. It was awesome, they said. You should try it, they said. It’s insanely easy and pays off in spades, they said. Very rarely do you ever hear an endorsement that roundly and completely glowing. What’d I do in response? I ignored it entirely. Didn’t make any bacon.

And frankly, now I’m feeling pretty dumb. Because I made bacon, and you know what? It’s awesome. You should try it. It’s insanely easy and it pays off in spades.

I started with a simple salt-sugar-pink salt cure. (Pink salt is curing salt – it gives bacon its characteristic color and flavor. You’ll want to mail-order this, or get some from a local spice shop.) The pork we generally get here in the Kitchens comes in astonishingly lean, and this belly was no exception. I was a little hesitant, but cured it anyway. A week later, I had what more or less amounted to Canadian bacon. Great, but not actual bacon (unless you’re Canadian).

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Super Food Nerds: In Pursuit of Hummus

Hi, I’m Jonathan, librarian, Super Food Nerd, and man in the grips of an obsession — an obsession with chickpeas. Or rather with hummus, the highest end a chickpea can aspire to.

In New York City’s Chelsea Market, several floors below Food Network and Cooking Channel’s offices, there is a lunch counter for Ronnybrook Milk Bar, famed for its ice cream. For those in the know, however, there is only one thing to order: hummus with egg. The Milk Bar, it turns out, is helmed by a bonafide hamsani (Middle Eastern hummus vendor), Aylon Hadar, originally from the outskirts of Tel Aviv; a man who, I am absolutely certain, turns out some of the absolute best hummus in NYC.

Aylon’s hummus is everything store-bought hummus is not: light as mousse, smooth as pudding. It is served just a bit warm and made fresh daily, both customary in the Middle East. Aylon begins with a shockingly large quantity of hummus, spread in a concave layer across a rimmed plate. A generous quantity of olive oil is then poured into the center. Atop this, he drizzles a thin white tahini sauce, and finishes with a splash of color in the form of sweet paprika and chopped parsley. The final result is layered, sophisticated, beautiful; a far cry from dense, monochromatic store-bought hummus.

So, with Aylon’s hummus as my grail, I attempted to hack his recipe. Here are some lessons I learned along the way.

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Super Food Nerds: How to Make Corned Beef

How to Make Corned Beef

Welcome to Super Food Nerds, a new column which will be written in alternating installments by me, Rupa (Food and Beverage Editor, Culinary Staff) and my colleague Jonathan (Research Librarian, same place). Each installment will be dedicated to a particular topic – how to DIY something you don’t normally DIY, how to perfect a dish usually taken for granted, plus best techniques, underlying chemistries and a handful of inexplicable preferences. Basically, if we can overthink it, we’re on it.

So, spring’s in the air, and naturally our thoughts are turning to beef. OK, that’s a lie, I was already thinking about beef — specifically, corned beef. There’s the whole St. Patrick’s Day thing, and I also really like corned beef. I’ve kept a mysterious bucket of brining beef in our kitchens’ walk-in fridge since last week, and have taken out pieces here and there to braise. After decent testing and rigorous eating, I’m pretty happy with the end result.

To make corned beef, you take a big, flavorful piece of meat and infuse it with even more flavor in the form of a salt-sugar-spice solution (aka brine) for way longer than you’d ever think you could safely keep meat in a fridge. Then, you cook it. The cumulative effect of beef, salt, sugar, spices and time is so much more than the sum of its parts that it’s sort of mind-blowing and unbelievably rewarding.

Here’s the gist (FAQ and recipe follow):

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